MK Avi Dichter (Kadima) is all but certain to become Israel's next homefront defense minister. In a late night meeting between Dichter and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, the former Israel Security Agency chief and public security minister agreed to tender his resignation from the Knesset on Tuesday and quit Kadima - the party to which he has belonged since entering politics in 2005.
After Dichter's resignation takes effect on Thursday, he will officially be sworn in at the Knesset plenum as homefront defense minister. As Dichter will not have any voting rights in the Knesset he is unlikely to alter the coalition's standing, but his vote may be crucial in the event that Netanyahu asks the government to approve a military strike on Iran.
Dichter's past statements suggest he would not object to an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear installations and has recently said Israel should shore up its military capabilities for such a scenario, Army Radio reported Monday.
Before meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, Dichter met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak at his Tel Aviv home.
The Kadima MK has flatly rejected the idea of leading a group of seven would-be Kadima renegades who would splinter from the party. Instead, Dichter opted to leave the party and allow it to retain the Knesset seat he will vacate. Dichter will replace Matan Vilnai, who left his post at the Homefront Defense Ministry to become Israel's ambassador to China in early August.
At a ceremony welcoming new immigrants to Israel on Tuesday, Netanyahu said, "No other government has spent as much on homefront defense as my government."
He praised Dichter and said the former ISA chief had contributed a great deal to the state of Israel, "and will continue to do so in his new capacity; he will now have an important task to carry out for the sake of Israel's security."
Dichter and Netanyahu served together in Sayeret Matkal, the IDF General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, responsible for some of the most daring operations in Israel's history.
Dichter also commented on his new post, writing on his Facebook account Tuesday, "After much thought, I decided on Monday to accept the prime minister and defense minister's offer of becoming homefront defense minister."
As his move elicited some unhappy responses from fellow Kadima memebers, Dichter said his plans and considerations had been well known for some time.
"I did not hide my thoughts from anyone, not the MKs, not the party activists, and not from Kadima voters," Dichter wrote. "Party politics and personal considerations played no role in my decision. Over the past 42 years, ever since I was drafted to the IDF, my first choice has always been to serve the state to the best of my ability. Now, as homefront defense minister, I believe I will be able to serve best. The current circumstances convinced me that it would be inappropriate for me to retain my Knesset seat, which I won because of Kadima voters and party members, and therefore I decided to give back my seat to Kadima and resign from the Knesset ... I put the country first, ahead of personal gain."
One Kadima MK told Haaretz Tuesday that Dichter chose to make his move after realizing that he had failed to get the support of seven MKs to defect with him (under Knesset rules, defectors must enlist at least seven MKs, or a third of the faction, in order to declare a new Knesset faction). The MK said his only option of entering the government was to resign and enter the government as a professional minister with no party affiliation.
Other Kadima MKs belittled Dichter for defecting, telling Army Radio Tuesday that it had become his only option since he allegedly tried to split the party or stage a coup that would oust party leader MK Shaul Mofaz form the party chairmanship, but failed on both fronts. A Dichter associate rebuffed those statements, saying Tuesday, "Had he wanted to, he would have formed a group of eight MKs to join the Likud."
Last month, Dichter lashed out at Mofaz for his decision to bolt from the short-lived unity government with Likud, and their relations have reportedly been strained ever since. But despite souring on Mofaz, Dichter refused to take part in former Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi's efforts to create an independent faction that would re-enter the government.
Netanyahu and Barak consider the appointment of someone of Dichter's stature — whose credentials on defense-related matters would rarely be questioned — as paramount when it comes to the homefront defense portfolio. They also preferred to have this position filled by a cabinet member from outside the Knesset, presumably as a means of winning across-the-board support for homefront preparedness efforts. Dichter's appointment may suggest he shares the same views as Netanyahu and Barak on Israel's Iran policy. Dichter has also been one of the biggest proponents for Kadima to join the Likud-led government over the past three years.
Political analysts believe Dichter will eventually join the Likud party. But if he wants to win a Likud Knesset seat he will have get a spot high up on the party's Knesset candidate list when primaries are held. Netanyahu has already said that the party would not secure guaranteed seats for anyone on the list.
Dichter is the latest high-ranking Kadima member to leave the party. Hanegbi left the party last month after a political mutiny in the party he had orchestrated fizzled when several MKs got cold feet and refused to defect. Former IDF Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz left the party in July over what he viewed as the party's failure to bring about the mandatory draft for the ultra-Orthodox.